A day after his most sensational season had come to a disappointing end, Kevin Durant was being asked how he’ll return even better.
At the time, he didn’t have an exact answer.
“It’s something I’m going to figure out,” Durant said. “Some different type of move that I’m going to figure out and try to master. But I’m just going to overall just try to get better, work on every single part of my game and bring it back to the team.”
Kendrick Perkins, Durant’s most outspoken teammate, didn’t mind offering up a specific suggestion.
Hit the weight room.
“I feel like he could get stronger, in my opinion,” Perkins said. “I think that would help him a lot. I told him all the good and great players that played the game, from Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, they all put size on them, and it helped them.”
More strength, Perkins said, will only benefit Durant’s body and set the stage for him to succeed in demanding times. For Durant, those include the need to be a better and more consistent defender, a more dependable low-post scoring threat and to persevere through seasons like this past one in which Durant’s minutes piled up to an outlandish league-leading tally.
“Seems like there was possessions he was tired,” Perkins said of Durant. “But, like I said, I think that’s (when) getting in the weight room plays a factor. Cause then you could let your body take over.”
In some ways, it seems silly to ask more of Durant when he already does so much for his team. He led the NBA in scoring this year for the fourth time in five seasons, carried the Thunder while Russell Westbrook missed nearly half the season and capped a marvelous regular season with his first league MVP award.
Yet we’re still asking Durant to do more, to be better.
But it’s essential. In order for the Thunder to claim its first championship, Durant acknowledges that he too must come back better.
“I always can be better,” he said.
Durant has added about 25 pounds since entering the league seven years ago, according to the Thunder’s roster. But there are still times that he gets bumped off his spot, pushed out beyond his preferred starting point offensively and backed in too deep defensively.
“It’s all in his mind,” Perkins said.
With starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha unlikely to return, the Thunder could be on the verge of losing its defensive safety net on the perimeter. In that case, it’ll be up to Durant and Russell Westbrook to step up and shoulder more of the responsibility on that end.
Sefolosha said the stars must start with taking accountability for their actions.
“I think it’s not so much about what we did the last month. I think it’s the 82 games leading up to (the postseason),” Sefolosha said. “It’s got to be some accountability every night. It can’t just be, ‘OK, we’re playing against a team that we’re supposed to beat so it’s OK to get away with a few things and we’re not going to put the finger on things that we don’t like to look at.’ I think it’s about us winning a title, and it starts Game 1. There can be no weeks where you don’t address the issues that guys maybe taking nights off defensively a little bit.”
Durant has a bit of a built-in excuse, though he’ll likely never use it. He led the league in total minutes in the regular season with 3,122 and followed that up with a postseason-high 815. His 3,937 total minutes were one more than he could have played in a full regular season with no overtimes.
If at any point Durant was tired, he had every right to be.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said coach Scott Brooks and his staff monitored Durant’s activity in other ways, limiting him in practice sessions and shootarounds to maximize his availability in games. But even that practice, like everything else, Presti said, is worth examining.
“I think that as we go forward there’s no question that’s something we want to look at and understand,” Presti said. “Not only for the long term, but to also make sure we are getting the most out of the minutes that are played during one particular game or another. … I can’t tell you what comes of it.”
Something’s got to give.
Because for perhaps the first time publicly after a season-ending loss, Durant, a renowned gym rat, said he would take some time away from the game. He didn’t know where he would go or what he would do. He hadn’t planned on vacationing before the end of June.
The subtle way that Durant said he needed to spoke volumes.
“But I left everything out there,” Durant said. “Every game, I sacrificed for my teammates, so I can live with the results.”